Sommer 2011, Rathausplatz Wien, es ist warm. Ich bin spontan gekommen, um Charles Bradley zu sehen. Der große, helle Platz scheint für ein intimes Soulkonzert nicht geeignet zu sein. Ohne große Erwartungen meinerseits beginnt das Konzert mit einem langen Intro seiner Menahan Street Band. Doch als Mr. Bradley in einem grauen Anzug die Bühne betritt und den ersten Song singt, ändert sich die Stimmung sofort. Mir stellen sich die Armhaare auf und in den nächsten 60 Minuten höre ich eines der besten Konzerte meines Lebens. Ich informiere mich am nächsten Tag über ihn, lese alles was ich finden kann und bin fasziniert von seiner Lebensgeschichte. Aufgewachsen ohne Mutter, mit 14 Jahren obdachlos, Koch in einer Psychiatrie, 20 Jahre Auftritte als James Brown-Imitator und sein Debütalbum mit gereiften 63 Jahren. Wie kann man trotz alledem noch so offen und herzlich sein? Sommer 2013, ich treffe Charles Bradley in den Katakomben der Wiener Staatsoper zum Interview. Zur Begrüßung gibt es eine Umarmung und ich spüre die gleiche Herzlichkeit wie 2011, als er nach dem Konzert durch die Menge ging und Umarmungen verteilte. Wir setzen uns und es beginnt ein Gespräch über Gott, das Leben und den richtigen Weg.
Interview & Fotos: Alexander Gotter
Lektorat: Philipp Poyntner
You had a lot of hard things to go through, similar to other soul singers like Marvin Gaye or James Brown. Do you think you need this struggle to make soulful music?
I would say, honestly for myself, my definition, my deepness of soul, I think it started way back from slavery where you can’t speak what’s on your mind and that’s when baptist churches were created and everybody go there and moan, groan and sing, it was a place to escape. A lot of stuff came from pain that you couldn’t speak out but sing it. 1984 a lot of things were going on that time: when you had a job you had to keep your mouth shut. Because when you had to pay 100 Dollars a month for your apartment, you better be quiet, back in that days 100 Dollars was a lot of money. As I kept growing I kept this things stored inside of me and now is the right time to sing it.
You said you like to be on your own?
Like today, when we riding for 24 hours to get here and when we got here, we got a hotel and I want to take my shower and get cleaned up. I was tired and in a very moody mood. I just didn’t want to get bothered. I was very grouchy, and when I’m grouchy I get very quiet and didn’t wanna talk and get some place for myself. But thank god I got a nice crew, beautiful bunch of guys which always put me out of it.
Maybe because you give so much on the stage there is not so much energy left?
There is a lot of love in me, but sometimes…I’m a very spiritual person and I pray at night and I say to god: „There’s a gift that you given to me: strongness and wisdom“. If I can forgive with an honest heart, I do believe I get gifted in greater ways.
You said you never found true love and honesty? But you met Tom [Brenneck] and the band and they showed you it can be different: they give you something without wanting?
They all give me love in their own perspective way, depending where they from and from which background and I see that. I know their background, good middle class family, their mother and father treated them best of their knowledge. I came from a rough rugged life and I used to envy them because that’s was I always wanted. These guys came from good loving families, I had to through the guts of the earth to get to that level.
Poull Brien, the director of Soul of America, said you were so trusting and open during the making that he felt nervous. How can you be like that, how can you be still so open to people with your life story?
My grandma always says: „Tell the truth, regardless how much it hurt you“. Because when you tell the truth I do believe the creator of all mankind will nurse you. I’m very religious, I believe there is some creator. I ain’t saying a name, like they call it in the catholic church, they are all just names to me. Before I walk on stage to perform for these people I always pray. Then I thank god for the knowledge that I was able to go through to all that stress, headache and pains and hurt that people done to me, that I can go on that stage and still go with an open heart. And this is what I address to the world: forgive them, find out who you are.
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I was impressed that you aren’t cynical, despite your life story?
My pastor always told me, she knows me very well, but she passed away, she always told me: „Charles, son, press your way. When you look back at your life, nothing’s there but hurt and pain, when you stand still all the hurt and pain is coming at you. When you look forward“, and I said I can’t do it, the mountain is to high to climb. And I look back and I said I can’t go back there and stay still. „The hill is the only way out“, so I pressed my way. Keep pressing the way, but press your way with all the love that god gives you and that’s what I do. And when I get to that level I feel ease.
Your music is inspired from your past in the hood. Hiphop is also music from the hood. Do you see some similarities and what do you think about sampling?
I don’t sample, they sample of me. I go through my spirit and dig down deep inside of me to find the gift that god gave me. We all have a gift inside of us. I pray deeply that I find it out and try to bring it up. But Alex, you have the same thing in you. You got a gift inside you. Maybe you are afraid to go inside of it, to unwind it, to look through all the hurt, pain and darkness. But it’s in you. It’s scary to go inside you, but you got to do that. There are some dark parts inside of you, that are you afraid to go into.
But I’m not sure if I should go and digging deeper…
When you digging deep and you may come to a frighting moment inside you, it‚s like going through a tunnel, a tunnel with very fragile walls. But when you believe in god, he will guide you through those fragile walls. Don’t be afraid what you got, because we all have to go through that tunnel to find your deepness of your soul and the more we go through that tunnel, the more we come to a purer life and the more we come to a purer life the evil force don’t like it, because you become clean, honest and know who you are. When I’m on the stage and giving the truth it hurts. But don’t be afraid!
Sometimes its easier to push things away…
Yes I know. When I go back to New York, I got to fight all those negative vibes away from me, they come so quick sometimes. To get away from them I talk to my mom, she is 89 years old. Always listen to an older person, they carry allot of wisdom that the young kids don’t have. They always guide you.
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